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“God of Dirt” Pt 1: The Word of God Spoken in Creation

September 20, 2010

Here’s a portion of one of the poems by Mary Oliver we read during Part 1 of our four-part Adult Ed Hour series on the experience of God in the natural world. (We will repeat Part 1 this Thursday, Sep. 23, at 6 pm.) Click below for the complete Part 1 handout, including three complete Mary Oliver poems and a few passages of scripture.

The god of dirt

came up to me many times and said

so many wise and delectable things, I lay

on the grass listening

to his dog voice,

crow voice,

frog voice; now

he said, and now,

and never once mentioned, forever,

The Leaf and the Cloud (“Work,” Section 1), by Mary Oliver, 2000

I am a woman sixty years old and of no special courage.

Everyday—a little conversation with God, or his envoy the tall pine,

or the grass-swimming cricket.

Everyday—I study the difference between water and stone.

Everyday—I stare at the world; I push the grass aside and stare at the world.

The spring pickerel in the burn and shine of the tight-packed water;

the sweetness of the child on the shore; also, its radiant temper;

the snail climbing the morning glories, carrying his heavy wheel;

the green throats of the lilies turning from the wind.

This is the world.

Comes the hunter under the red leaves;

comes the hounds, on their stubbies;

like wind they pour through the grass,

like wind they pour up the hill;

like wind they twist and swirl in the long grass.

Everyday—I have work to do:

I feel my body rising through the water not much more than a leaf;

and I feel like the child, crazed by beauty or filled to bursting with woe;

and I am the snail in the universe of the leaves trudging upward;

and I am the pale lily who believes in God, though she has no word for it,

and I am the hunter, and I am the hounds,

and I am the fox, and I am the weeds of the field,

and I am the tunnel and the coolness of the earth,

and I am the pawprint in the dust,

I am the dusty toad who looks up unblinking

and sees (do you also see them?) the white clouds

in their blind, round-shouldered haste;

I am a woman sixty years old, and glory is my work.

Job 12:7-8

But ask the animals, and they will teach you;
the birds of the air, and they will tell you;
8 ask the plants of the earth,* and they will teach you;
and the fish of the sea will declare to you.

Proverbs 6:6-11

Go to the ant, you lazybones;
consider its ways, and be wise.
Without having any chief
or officer or ruler,
it prepares its food in summer,
and gathers its sustenance in harvest.
How long will you lie there, O lazybones?
When will you rise from your sleep?
A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest,
and poverty will come upon you like a robber,
and want, like an armed warrior.

Proverbs 30: 24-28

Four things on earth are small,
yet they are exceedingly wise:
the ants are a people without strength,
yet they provide their food in the summer;
the badgers are a people without power,
yet they make their homes in the rocks;
the locusts have no king,
yet all of them march in rank;
the lizard can be grasped in the hand,
yet it is found in kings’ palaces.

Luke 12: 22-31

He said to his disciples, ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin;yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

One or Two Things, by Mary Oliver, 1986

1

Don’t bother me.

I’ve just

been born.

2

The butterfly’s loping flight

carries it through the country of the leaves

delicately, and well enough to get it

where it wants to go, wherever that is, stopping

here and there to fuzzle the damp throats

of flowers and the black mud; up

and down it swings, frenzied and aimless; and sometimes

for long delicious moments it is perfectly

lazy, riding motionless in the breeze on the soft stalk

of some ordinary flower.

3

The god of dirt

came up to me many times and said

so many wise and delectable things, I lay

on the grass listening

to his dog voice,

crow voice,

frog voice; now

he said, and now,

and never once mentioned, forever,

4

which has nevertheless always been,

like a sharp iron hoof,

at the center of my mind.

5

One or two things are all you need

to travel over the blue pond, over the deep

roughage of the trees and through the stiff

flowers of lightning—some deep

memory of pleasure, some cutting

knowledge of pain.

6

But to lift the hoof!

For that you need

an idea.

7

For years and years I struggled

Just to love my life. And then

The butterfly

rose, weightless, in the wind.

“Don’t love your life

Too much,” it said,

and vanished

into the world.

Isaiah 55: 12-13

For you shall go out in joy,
and be led back in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
shall burst into song,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;
instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;
and it shall be to the Lord for a memorial,
for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.

Psalm 148

Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord from the heavens;
praise him in the heights!
Praise him, all his angels;
praise him, all his host!

Praise him, sun and moon;
praise him, all you shining stars!
Praise him, you highest heavens,
and you waters above the heavens!

Let them praise the name of the Lord,
for he commanded and they were created.
He established them for ever and ever;
he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.

Praise the Lord from the earth,
you sea monsters and all deeps,

fire and hail, snow and frost,
stormy wind fulfilling his command!

Mountains and all hills,
fruit trees and all cedars!
Wild animals and all cattle,
creeping things and flying birds!

Psalm 19: 1-6

The heavens are telling the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours forth speech,
and night to night declares knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words;
their voice is not heard;
yet their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.

In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun,
which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy,
and like a strong man runs its course with joy.
Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
and its circuit to the end of them;
and nothing is hidden from its heat.

The Sun, by Mary Oliver, 1991

Have you ever seen

anything

in your life

more wonderful

than the way the sun,

every evening,

relaxed and easy,

floats toward the horizon

and into the clouds or the hills,

or the rumpled sea,

and is gone—

and how it slides again

out of the blackness,

every morning,

on the other side of the world,

like a red flower

streaming upward on its heavenly oils,

say, on a morning in early summer,

at its perfect imperial distance—

and have you ever felt for anything

such wild love—

do you think there is anywhere, in any language,

a word billowing enough

for the pleasure

that fills you,

as the sun

reaches out,

as it warms you

as you stand there,

empty-handed—

or have you too

turned from this world—

or have you too

gone crazy

for power,

for things?

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